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These Ukrainian students are struggling to flee the war and secure safe passage to the UK

‘I just want to be safe, to have a chance for better life’


Before February 24th, Yulia was worried. In the run-up to her exams, she was worried that she might not be able to balance her studies with her part-time job as a hotel receptionist, along with her thriving social life. Yulia didn’t know it then, but life for her and other students in Ukraine was about to change dramatically.

Her past worries, shared by hardworking, fun-loving students the world over, now seem trivial. That’s because she’s now worried her visa application won’t get through. She’s worried about the intentions of the sponsor she’s been partnered with as part of the UK’s Homes For Ukraine scheme. And if her visa does end up getting processed, she’s worried she may fall victim to crime on the border.

“I just want to be safe, to have a chance for better life,” Yulia tells me. “I just want go to work, pass my exams, date guys and have fun with my loved ones.”

Only one in ten Ukrainian refugees who’ve secured visas have actually made it to the UK

Many students like Yulia are fleeing the war in Ukraine, hoping to seek refuge in countries such as the UK. The trouble is, the process is incredibly difficult. The Homes for Ukraine scheme was established so that UK citizens could pair up with refugees, with the hope of giving them somewhere to stay, well away from the ongoing conflict.

However, The Times revealed yesterday that of those who have successfully obtained visas under the scheme, just ten per cent have actually made it to the UK. And many more are yet to even get visas at all.

The Tab spoke with two students who are trying to flee the war in Ukraine and secure safe passage to the UK.

‘Get up,’ said Nazar’s sister-in-law. ‘Russia has started the war’

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Nazar

Nazar is a 17-year-old computer science student from Ternopil, a city in Western Ukraine that is, in his words, “more peaceful than other regions.” While much of the fighting has been concentrated on the East and central regions of the country, that doesn’t mean Nazar hasn’t been affected by the onset of war.

Nazar is a 17-year-old computer science student from Ternopil, a city in Western Ukraine that is, in his words, “more peaceful than other regions.” While much of the fighting has been concentrated on the East and central regions of the country, that doesn’t mean Nazar hasn’t been affected by the onset of war.

He hears sirens every day and often sees military planes flying overhead, while in neighbouring areas that have airports or military bases, rockets have been raining down.

Nazar is currently staying with his family in a small village, but he wants to leave the country. If he chooses to do this, he’ll be travelling alone, as his mum has decided to remain in Ukraine to look after Nazar’s elderly grandmother.

‘War has come to the house of every Ukrainian’

When war broke out, 22-year-old student Yulia was living on her own in the centre of Odesa. Soon after, her friends became worried about her, so now she’s moved into a one-bed apartment with three of them.

“At first, we lived more or less calmly. The guys went to the territorial defence. My female friend and I went to weave nets at school and brought humanitarian aid and prepared sandwiches for the military,” she says. Now, explosions are a regular occurrence in the area where she used to live. “War has come to the house of every Ukrainian.”

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Yulia

Yulia’s parents are unable to leave the country.  Her father works in the army, while her mother works at a strategically important facility and has been told that leaving is a criminal offence.

Yulia, on the other hand, is trying to travel to the UK. At the time of writing, she’s been matched with a sponsor and has gone through a lot of the administrative processes but is unsure whether her visa status has been granted.

Although she speaks English well, Yulia has found the Homes for Ukraine scheme challenging to navigate, describing how “complex bureaucratic terms in a foreign language confuse” her.

Nazar has also secured a sponsor, but finds the whole scheme confusing and hard to navigate. On top of this, he’s not sure the scheme is open to him at all, as he is only 17 years old. The UK government is suggesting that people under the age of 18 who are unaccompanied should stay in Ukraine. This is making it difficult for students like Nazar to flee the conflict.

A spokesperson for the government said: “We stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine and are doing everything we can to help those displaced, including unaccompanied children. We are looking closely at the issue of unaccompanied children and will continue to work with the Ukrainian government on these matters.”

For Nazar, Yulia and many other young people trying to leave Ukraine and escape the war, past worries that may have may have once felt important, have now been replaced with genuine fears. “I’m scared because the war came to my country and I don’t know what will happen with me and Ukraine tomorrow,” Nazar says.

Related articles recommended by this writer:

• The UK universities supporting Ukrainian students and academics caught up in the war

• ‘I’ve received calls from friends crying’: Ukrainian students share the reality of the war